Good Housekeeping Identifies Visual Accountability

5S is a systematic process of workplace organization. Here's an overview of the five parts.


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With industry working to be more efficient, due to fewer employees available to complete the work, and using equipment to its fullest potential, manufacturing organizations are seeking to be more intentional about processes that impact the bottom line.            

Much of this is driven by 5S Good Housekeeping practices. What does this refer to? A short definition is that 5S, or the five pillars of the visual workplace, is a systematic process of workplace organization. A method developed by the Japanese, it works in relationship with lean manufacturing so that organizations can Sort, Set in order, Shine (clean), Standardize and Sustain the process to complete the work in the most efficient manner for just-in-time deliveries.


Some manufacturing professionals simply don’t understand the value of the process or don’t see the relevance of the 5S principles. When asked about the components of 5S, these folks might comment, “That’s just a system of keeping things organized and clean, right?” as if it’s some sort of crazy idea about messy toolboxes. Others might react with, “Why make a big program out of cleaning up?”

Yet there are focused companies that, once organized, are quick to agree that they witness the benefits of efficiency, experience fewer work-related injuries and have better communication and attitudes among workers. Most importantly, they benefit from cost savings.

Successful manufacturers are always seeking ways for continuous improvement that will allow them to provide quality products in a timely manner for the least amount of money. 5S helps drive this through lean manufacturing principles. These organizations take the time to evaluate, collaborate, implement and monitor to make adaptations for the best results. The intent of 5S is to have only what you need available in the workplace, a designated place for everything, a standard way of doing things and the discipline to maintain it.

For the operator, the components of 5S create a superior working environment. It gives the operator an opportunity to provide creative input regarding how the workplace should be organized and laid out and how standard work should be completed. Operators will be able to find things easier every time. The workplace will be cleaner and safer. Jobs will be simpler and more satisfying with many obstacles and frustrations removed.

The first “S” (Sort) requires you to distinguish between what is needed and not needed. Then it requires you to discard what is not needed, which is known as “red-tagging.” A team goes through all items (tools, equipment, material, etc.), and each member asks the question: “Do I need this to do my job on a regular basis?” Items that are used very infrequently or never used should be red-tagged. After determining what is actually needed, all documentation is updated to reflect the necessary parts.

The second “S” (Set in Order) requires you to organize things so that they are simple to use and label them so that anyone can find, use and return them to the correct place easily. Where it is practical, visual controls should be used in this activity, such as labeling, signage and a communication device within the work environment that tells you at a glance how work should be done. The requirements for setting in order include:

  • Equipment and tool organization: Simple, organized storage with visual confirmation (with just a glance, you know exactly where a tool goes, if it is missing or the tool location is empty.)
  • Tools and equipment used most frequently are arranged closest to the employee.
  • Workstations have a place for each tool, when possible, with no toolboxes or drawers that interfere with visibility or require unneeded motion to open and close.
  • Taping: Tape the floor to indicate areas of operations, parts, walkways, discrepant material and hazards.
  • Work instructions: Make sure these are current and located at the workstation.
  • Signboard strategy:
    • Indicate cell, product lines and workstations.
    • Indicate production goals and status.
    • Post area information boards with key status indicators
  • (inventory, training, calibration, etc.).
  • Ergonomics: Follow ergonomic guidelines in work/tool design.

The third “S” (Shine) involves bringing the workspace back to proper order by the end of each day. It requires periodic cleanup (at least once daily), responsible person(s) identified for cleanup, establishment of cleanup/restocking methods (tools, checklists, etc.) and periodic supervisor inspection.           

The fourth “S” (Standardize) is the method by which you maintain the first three “S” steps. Organization, orderliness and cleanliness are maintained and made habitual by instituting 5S duties into regular work routines. The methods need to be standardized and required company-wide.

The fifth “S” (Sustain) allows the organization to sustain its 5S program by requiring:

  • an executive 5S champion to ensure that 5S becomes part of the culture
  • periodic walk-through inspections/audits with posted results
  • 5S performance measurement of workgroups

Implementation of this final “S” is the point where most companies fall back into their old ways of doing things. Very often, 5S is thought of as an activity, rather than as an element of company culture. Companies implement 5S for several months only to find themselves back in their previous state. To make 5S work, it is critical that performance be measured and that top management remains committed.

While the initial thought of digging into the entire process may be an overwhelmingly tedious idea for an organization, the benefits of clearing the old, unused equipment of the past provide renewed energy for organizing and improving the future of the total organization. It requires honest assessment of what it takes to be efficient and strong discipline to maintain 5S. In today’s hectic work environments, finding the time to collaborate on this topic is the first challenge. Next comes the budgeting and implementation to make it happen. With dedicated, knowledgeable vendor partners, the task of organizing, identifying and inspecting the process becomes easier. Through creative dialogue with your team, you can find flexible ways to complete the task and encourage continued practice of 5S Good Housekeeping.


John Newbold, Business Development Manager, has been with Mobile Epiphany for three years. Over the past 12 months, he has been leading the scope of mobile applications for manufacturing that include 5S Good Housekeeping, Work-in-Process and Environment, Health & Safety Inspection, among others. Contact John at Mobile Epiphany, 416-526-7971, 2675 South Abilene Street, Suite 100, Aurora, CO 80014

Laurie Barcaskey of Leading Marks is an authorized manufacturer’s representative with 30 years of experience and shop floor knowledge of solutions for industrial identification, part traceability and pipe testing. Laurie is the third generation of one of the marking industry’s most innovative and enduring family legacies, tracing back to 1889. Contact Laurie at Leading Marks, 412-366-4733, 736 W. Ingomar Road #707, Ingomar, PA 15127, www.leadingmarks.com.